Research Question: “What are the challenges posed by virtual learning and technological advancement when educating children with Autism spectrum disorder?”
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social communication and atypical motor actions. The prevalence of ASD is on the upsurge, presently affecting at least one in every fifty-nine children. People who have ASD may experience challenges identifying emotions, understanding social cues, and displaying appropriate responses. However, the study shows that taking advantage of technology can improve individuals with ASD’s learning experience. The assistive technology (AT) programs create a virtual setting where children with ASD can explore and learn new skills (Tanner, Dixon, & Verenikina, 2010). Research on the positive effect of technology on improving the learning experience for children with special needs such as individuals with ASD has been prevalent over the years. However, while researchers concentrate on technology’s critical role for ASD learners, not much attention is given to technology’s challenges when handling children with ASD. Therefore, the present literature explores the challenges of virtual learning and technological development when educating children with ASD. The understating of such challenges is essential for refining strategies or developing programs designed to improve children with ASD’s educational experience.
Even though digital technologies have proven to support learners’ social and academic, teachers, on the other hand, may find the technology intimidating because of a lack of adequate training on the use of such technologies. Many schools lack technical support to guide the use of technology in the classroom. According to the research by Johnson, Jacovina, Russell & Soto (2016), the most commonly cited challenge facing the full implementation of virtual learning and technology in the classroom setting is insufficient training and professional development. Teachers often have it challenging to collect content and become acquainted with the software used to instruct learners under the Autism Spectrum or redevelop the teaching aids due to lack of suitable commercially accessible resources and knowledge (Johnson, Jacovina, Russell, & Soto 2016). A study conducted by Tanner, Dixon, & Verenikina (2010) established that many teachers were unwilling to develop a presentation using PowerPoint due to a lack of knowledge of the program or limited time. The study also shows that some teachers prefer low-level technology strategies to high-level-technology approaches perceived to be challenging to implement (Tanner, Dixon, & Verenikina, 2010) because of low-level understanding of technology caused by insufficient training and professional development.
However, even if schools hire only instructors with knowledge in the current classroom technology for learners with ASD, various technologies and software will still be developed in their teaching careers. Therefore continuous training is necessary to cope with the technology advancement. Besides, teachers may likely to misuse the technology provided for teaching if they are not adequately trained on the usage (Johnson, Jacovina, Russell, & Soto 2016). School districts should ensure adequate resources to provide continuous training on emerging classroom technologies to eliminate lack of understanding as a barrier to technology implementation when teaching children with ASD.
Learners also tend to display aggressive (repetitive and stereotypical) behaviors due to the overuse of technology. Several studies have established that overuse of technology may translate into increased aggressive actions, lower academic performance, increased bullying, and unhealthy and disturbed sleeping patterns (Preston, Wiebe, Gabriel, McAuley, Campbell & MacDonald 2015). A study by King, Brady & Voreis (2017) observed that Autism spectrum disorder’s actual characteristics might, unconsciously, foster a challenging contact with technology. The authors argued that one of the diagnostic standards for ASD comprises the manifestation of restricted and repetitive behavior patterns, which might hinder interaction with technology. The use of technology may exaggerate these existing challenges in children with ASD by increasing stereotypical behaviors (King, Brady & Voreis 2017). Repetitive and stereotypical behaviors (RSBs) are operationally described by (Cabibihan, Javed, Aldosari, Frazier & Elbashir, 2017) as tapping and swiping objects are gestures fundamental for one to navigate the touchscreen phones and tablets. Several other apps, such as the Doodle Buddy app, may also promote RSBs as they demand repetitive finger tapping to “stamp” the screen (King, Brady & Voreis 2017).
The study also shows that too much screen time can lead to aggressive behaviors among children with ASD. In the article Psychology Today, Dunckley argues that “children with autism are extra vulnerable to screen time effect” (Dunckley, 2016). Children with ASD are susceptible to stimulation regulation problems, which manifest in exaggerated stress reactions, emotional dysregulation, and over or under-stimulation. Increased screen time escalates chronic and acute stress, induces emotional dysregulation, and hyperarousal and produces overstimulation (Dunckley, 2016). The resultants are aggressive behaviors that teachers may find challenging to handle.
Children with ASD are generally sensitive to stimulants of every kind, including electronics, which can exacerbate self-injurious behaviors, sensory issues, aggression and over-focused, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors (Dunckley, 2016). Digital devices generate a multiple of stimuli, which can make the children exasperated and worsen their behaviors. Such characteristics may pose challenges to teachers handling children with ASD.
Besides inadequate training and the direct impact of technology on children, teachers also face access constraints in integrating technology in the classrooms. Indeed, the most fundamental step for effective technology integration is the pervasive access to tools essential to facilitate educational computer programs. Continued use of technology is not possible where access is limited. Study shows that while schools in developed nations such as the U.S. strive to transition to one-to-one (1:1) computing, many learners still do not have consistent and reliable access to computers or tablets (Johnson, Jacovina, Russell, & Soto, 2016). A survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reveals that by 2009, about 97% of public instructors in the U.S. had access to one desktop computer in their classroom and on overage classrooms had 5.3 learners sharing one computer in the school. Approximately 93% of the computers had internet access by 2009. As of 2017, there were still middle technology public schools with an average student to computer ratio ranging from 3:1 to 5:1 and low technology schools where the proportion ranged from 6:1 and even higher (Cate, 2017).
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Although inspiring improvements have been made to improve the state of technology in schools, significant educational technologies, particularly for learners with ASD, require more recurrent instructional time on the computers than presently afforded by pupils’ ratio to computers. Inconsistent access to computers makes it extremely challenging for teachers to incorporate technology into teaching programs for students with ASD.
Gaps in the Literature and Areas for Future Research
Improving research on challenges posed by virtual learning and technological advancement on ASD educators and learners should also embrace sample size deliberations. Most of the literature adopted a significantly small sample size to provide for firm conclusions. The researchers should consider providing adequate details about their population and interventions to facilitate a replicate study. Future research should also focus on specific technologies features essential to generate therapeutic effects, and how such features produce the outcome, understanding the change mechanism. Even though some existing literature provides suggestions, further research is vital to develop technology development guidelines and application with children ASD.
Summary and Conclusion
Research incorporating virtual learning and technology advancement has steadily demonstrated a positive impact on children’s ASD, making children with autism blend into society’s increasingly advancing technology. However, despite the numerous positive effects of technology on improving the learning experience for children with ASD, instructors face multiple challenges when integrating technology in such classroom settings. Research evidence suggests that teachers often find technology intimidating. Many schools lack technical support to guide technology in the classroom, making it challenging for technology implementation in the school. The study has also proven that overreliance on technology has proven to result in more aggressive behaviors in children with ASD, which might be complicated for the teachers. Last but not least is the accessibility constraints. The most major step for effective technology integration is the pervasive access to tools essential to facilitate educational computer programs. Research suggests limited access to technology tools such as computers, tables both by teachers, developed and developing nations, thus hindering technology integration in the classroom.
Cabibihan, J. J., Javed, H., Aldosari, M., Frazier, T. W., & Elbashir, H. (2017). Sensing technologies for autism spectrum disorder screening and intervention. Sensors, 17(1), 46.
Cate, J. W. (2017). Students to Computer Ratio, Socioeconomic Status, and Student Achievement.
Dunckley, V, L. (2016). Autism and Screen Time: Special Brains, Special Risks Children with autism are vulnerable to the negative effects of screen time. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201612/autism-and-screen-time-special-brains-special-risks
Johnson, A. M., Jacovina, M. E., Russell, D. G., & Soto, C. M. (2016). Challenges and solutions when using technologies in the classroom. ERIC Clearinghouse.
King, A. M., Brady, K. W., & Voreis, G. (2017). “It is a blessing and a curse”: Perspectives on tablet use in children with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism & Developmental Language Impairments, 2, 2396941516683183.
Preston, J. P., Wiebe, S., Gabriel, M., McAuley, A., Campbell, B., & MacDonald, R. (2015). Benefits and challenges of technology in high schools: A voice from educational leaders with a Freire echo. Interchange, 46(2), 169-185.
Tanner, K., Dixon, R., & Verenikina, I. (2010, June). Digital technology in the learning of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in applied classroom settings. In EdMedia Innovate Learning (pp. 2586-2591). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).